Those of us who live in small areas of dense population with diverse inhabitants, we imagine, perhaps even congratulate ourselves, that our lifestyle is cosmopolitan. Thanks to national and global mobility, people of different ethnicity, nationality, language and faith live side by side in a huge, life-enriching melting pot. But is it melting? Surrounded by so many people, we cannot hope to be best friends with everyone, we’d be hard pressed even to say hello to everyone. So we pick and choose those people with whom we will associate and treat everyone else as, what? I’ve heard the theory put forward that we treat strangers like trees, part of the landscape. They might get in the way or they maybe useful somehow. We may admire them, or we may find them unsightly. They are part of our life, but only mad people talk to them!
So emotionally, we live in communities of ‘real’ people, in amongst a forest of tree people, but intellectually we live in a nation of 63 million humans. I think that this is where a disparity creeps in. We imagine that these 63 million are just like us and our hand-picked friends, they are people, not trees. And just like our circle of friends, these 63 million broadly share our outlook and opinions, in fact they lend weight to them. Our own way of life is validated by the 63 million who share it. If we see someone behaving in a way that doesn’t fit in with this we can shake our heads, secure in the knowledge that the the 63 million would shake their heads too. It’s a kind of emotional ghettoisation that leaves us living most of our lives in a happy self-satisfied bubble, and predisposes us to look around for an outside culprit whenever that bubble is popped.
We would be happier, more contented, more secure people if we could accept the humanity of those around us. We don’t have to love our neighbour, we don’t even have to like them, we just have to respect their right to be and recognise that their existence enriches our lives.